By Carol Volkart, Newsletter Editor
“When I heard of Ron Hatch’s passing last fall, I googled him and found an outpouring – a flood – of appreciation for him and his work coming from the province’s finest writers,” recalls Dunbar resident Helen Spiegelman. “How amazing that he made time to help a little committee pull together a history of their neighbourhood.”
The history was The Story of Dunbar: Voices of a Vancouver Neighbourhood. Ron Hatch was the quiet man who helped his neighbours capture the century-long transformation of their community from forest to suburb in 12 polished chapters, complete with old photographs, and high-quality index and sources sections.
The Dunbar book is among about 300 titles published by Ronsdale Press, the company Ron Hatch and his wife Veronica bought (and renamed) in 1988 after his retirement as a UBC English professor. Headquartered in their West 21st home, it became a strong and highly regarded press in the B.C. and Canadian literary world.
Dunbar’s efforts to capture its early voices before they were gone fit well with Ronsdale’s goals of giving Canadians new insights into themselves and their country.
But why would a world adventurer, mountaineer and lover of the wilderness choose to set up as a book publisher in his retirement? Asked about it when he won the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award in 2014, Hatch said: “I felt I could add something.”
What he added was apparent in the torrent of appreciation unleashed when he died on Nov. 25. Author after author – poets, biographers, novelists – wrote online tributes to his fastidious editing, his kind support, his honest opinion delivered, as one writer said, “with a twinkle in his eye.”
Spiegelman, who took over the editing of the Dunbar book after the death of the original editor Peggy Schofield in 2005, had the Ron Hatch experience first-hand:
“As I settled into that committee following the death of dear Peggy Schofield, I sensed the presence of invisible forces guiding our work, providing us with behind-the-scenes support that made our project so much more than it would have been, and our work so much smoother and easier to do. In retrospect, it looks like a fairy tale,” she wrote.
“I met with the kindly man on West 21st a few times without realizing that he was the wizard making it all happen. He would be the one who sent us our copy editor, Naomi Pauls, who read our manuscripts and sat with us at weekly meetings at Pam Chambers’ dining room table hashing out details. He would be the one who thought of bringing in a little behind-the-scenes team that distilled out of the sprawling text (400+ pages long) the meticulously detailed index at the back of the book, so people could look up references to things and people that they were interested in. He would have been the one who had the eye and the experience to approve a really great cover image, clear photos, and graceful design inside.
“In all those tributes to Ron Hatch that I read online, I could see the same Ron Hatch that we’d known, smiling, gentle, helping make magic happen.”
Hatch was so notoriously modest that his friend Alan Twigg organized a celebration of the Hatches’ publishing venture in 2013 because he felt that “Ron’s low-key and determinedly non-self-referential manner was being under-recognized.” On Hatch’s death, Twigg, an author and creator of BC Bookworld wrote: “A keen environmentalist, a meticulous proofreader and a courageous soul, Ron Hatch was a gentleman and a scholar who never sought the limelight; always empowering others to do so.”
Dunbar Residents’ Association board member Sonia Wicken recalls Hatch as a casually dressed, quiet man who could be spotted mailing off packages at the local post office or walking his black Labs in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, he’d show up on her doorstep with a royalty cheque for the Dunbar book.
When the DRA and Hatch sat down to negotiate the book contract, there was no drama, says Wicken, who was DRA treasurer at the time. The DRA had to guarantee pre-sales of 2,000 for a 5,000-copy run, which it easily did, and the book sold well afterwards. “He didn’t lose money on it, so we were pleased about that,” she says. Hatch didn’t come across as a salesman, she notes, but he did a great job of distributing the book, working hard to get it into the airport and onto the ferries.
Hatch, born in 1939, grew up in Dunbar after his parents moved here from Thunder Bay, Ont. in about 1947. Except for a few years working for CUSO in India and studying and teaching in Europe, he made Dunbar his home. The house where he lived and ran his publishing operation was a block from where he grew up, his grandson Forrest Berman-Hatch wrote in a Ubyssey obituary in December.
But Hatch was also an adventurer and traveller, with a passion for mountains, wilderness and foreign scenes. As a young couple, the Hatches took “epic motorcycle journeys across South Asia and the Middle East and spent time in the Himalayas so my grandfather could climb among the world’s most legendary mountains,” wrote Berman-Hatch. “He completed multiple first ascents but would never mention them unless pressed.” Later, there were sabbaticals abroad, but always the wilderness too – hiking in Whistler, summers off-grid in northern B.C., and a cabin on Hollyburn Mountain. “He loved that cabin and would go up there to read manuscripts under a propane lantern for decades,” Berman-Hatch recalled.
And underscoring it all, literature “of the kind that champions the values of freedom, decency and critical thinking,” Berman-Hatch wrote. “To my grandfather, literature was about maintaining civilization in the face of darkness.”
Twigg recalled Hatch as “old-fashioned in the best possible ways,” never speaking unkindly of others, saving money on stamps by dropping off cheque payments by hand. “At a crowded literary event,” he remembered, “I once spontaneously introduced Ron Hatch to the person next to me by saying, ‘This is Ron Hatch. He tells the truth and he does things on time.’”